- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

3:53 p.m.

MOSCOW — Mstislav Rostropovich, the ebullient master cellist who fought for the rights of Soviet-era dissidents and later triumphantly played Bach suites below the crumbling Berlin Wall, died yesterday. He was 80.

Mr. Rostropovich died in a Moscow cancer hospital, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Mr. Rostropovich’s spokeswoman, Natalia Dollezhal, confirmed that he had died but did not provide details.

Mr. Rostropovich, who resided in Paris after self-imposed exile, suffered from intestinal cancer.

“The passing of Mstislav Rostropovich is a bitter blow to our culture,” said author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was sheltered by Mr. Rostropovich during the writer’s bitter fight against Soviet authorities in the 1970s.

“He gave Russian culture worldwide fame. Farewell, beloved friend,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn said, according to Itar-Tass.

The musician’s death follows that of another towering Russian — former President Boris Yeltsin, who led the country from communism to democracy.

Mr. Rostropovich was hospitalized in Paris in early February, and after he took a turn for the worse, his family arranged for him to return to Russia, said his longtime manager, Ronald Wilford.

He was treated at a Moscow hospital and was visited Feb. 6 by President Vladimir Putin.

Seven weeks later, he was well enough to attend a celebration at the Kremlin on his 80th birthday, but he appeared frail.

“I feel myself the happiest man in the world,” Mr. Rostropovich said after slowly rising from his chair during the March 27 celebration. “I will be even more happy if this evening will be pleasant for you.”

Mr. Putin then presented him with a medal — the Order of Service to the Fatherland.

A bear of a man who hugged anyone in sight, “Slava” Rostropovich was considered by many to be the successor to Pablo Casals as the world’s greatest cellist. He was an effusive rather than an intimidating maestro, a teacher who nurtured the late Jacqueline du Pre, among other great cellists.

“He was the most inspiring musician that I have ever known,” said David Finckel, the Emerson String Quartet’s cellist, who studied with Mr. Rostropovich for nine years. “He had a way to channel his energy through other people, and it was magical.”

The Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation said the cellist’s funeral will be held Sunday in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, followed by burial in Novodevichy Cemetery, where his teachers, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, are buried. Mr. Yeltsin, a longtime friend of Mr. Rostropovich’s, was accorded the same funeral and burial arrangements.

Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich was born March 27, 1927, in Baku, in Soviet Azerbaijan. His mother was a pianist. His grandfather and father were cellists. One memorable photo shows him as an infant cradled in his father’s cello case. He started playing the piano at age 4 and took up the cello at about 7, later studying at the Moscow Conservatory.

“When I started learning the cello, I fell in love with the instrument because it seemed like a voice — my voice,” Mr. Rostropovich told Strad magazine.

He made his public debut as a cellist in 1942 at age 15 and gained wide notice in the West nine years later, when the Soviets sent him to perform at a festival in Florence, Italy. Life magazine reported that the 24-year-old “stirred the audience to warm applause.” A New York Times critic said, “His tone was big, clean and accurate. … His musical style seemed to be ardent and intense.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide